After two straight down years, restaurants in the Twin Cities expect business to improve this year, and that will mean sales upticks for produce vendors who sell product to them, said Dan McElroy, executive vice president for the Minnesota Restaurant Association, St. Paul.
“We’re hearing from our members that 2009 was a very bad year and that 2010 improved but was still not to pre-recession levels,” he said. “The trend has been that the number of guests is starting to recover, but average guest check is not. It’s still below previous years.”
For 2011, things appear to be shaping up better, he said.
But, he added, there are some caveats with that outlook.
“People are still concerned about the impact of gas prices on dining-out budgets, but in general, we’re seeing a little more optimism,” McElroy said.
He said the signs of pending improvement are apparent.
“We’ve seen some of our multi-unit members announce new events, which we didn’t see much of in 2009 and 2010,” he said. “There are a couple of national franchise groups that are trying to open locations here. Dickey’s Barbecue (Pit), I think, has maybe 18 units open in maybe a year and a half. As they are everywhere in the country, Five Guys (Burgers and Fries) has opened a number of units here.
“We have two new sandwich chains that are opening a number of stores — Jersey Mike’s (Subs) and Which Wich (Superior Sandwiches). There was just a multi-unit deal signed but no locations announced for Firehouse Subs out of Kansas City. And, as you know, sandwich chains tend to be big users of produce in a Subway trend toward a lot of fixings, so to speak.”
The Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area’s diverse restaurant scene is an asset to potential recovery, McElroy said.
“This is a fairly large and growing metropolitan area, with over 3 million people in the broad metropolitan area, and we have members that range from the least expensive QSRs (quick-service restaurants) to very expensive white-tablecloth restaurants,” he said.
“We’re blessed with a fairly broad range of ethnic restaurants for a variety of reasons, with homegrown chains like Famous Dave’s and Buffalo Wild Wings, to a fairly significant presence of the national groups.
“I suspect we match almost any metropolitan area for diversity, with the exception, perhaps, of some of the really big areas like Chicago or Los Angeles that are even more diverse.”